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Fluted pumpkin, effective in preventing anaemia
Pumpkin (T. occidentalis extract) could be adopted in an alternative, longer-term, plant food-based supplementation strategy for Iron deficiency anaemia treatment, researchers have said.
Researchers in a study that compared the effectiveness of pumpkin leave extract with Ferrous sulphate (FeSO4) stated that the use of pumpkin as an alternative to FeSO4 or other forms of redox-active iron was a better option considering the problems that sometimes arise from side reactions or effects of conventional iron preparations such as FeSO4.
The 2011 study, published in the journal, Nutrition Metabolite, was entitled “Iron bioavailability from a tropical leafy vegetable in anaemic mice.” It was carried out by Fiona Hamlin and Gladys O Latunde-Dada, all from the King’s College London, Diabetes and Nutritional Sciences Division, School of Medicine, Franklin-Wilkins Building, London.
Iron deficiency anaemia is a nutritional disorder afflicting large population groups in the world. It is widespread amongst vulnerable infants, adolescent girls and pregnant women particularly in populations that feed largely on plant food sources. Remarkably, however, some leafy vegetables have been identified and used locally in treating anaemia.
These include Telfairia occidentalis, commonly known as the fluted gourd, fluted pumpkin or ugwu which is widely cultivated in countries such as Nigeria in West Africa. This is a vegetable food crop that is indigenous to West Africa. The leaves and seeds are the edible parts of the plant and are used in everyday meals by incorporation into soups and stews.
Some scientists have proposed the use of fluted pumpkin in the treatment of anaemia, following studies which reported that extracts of fluted pumpkin helps to maintain the blood level in subjects given its extract. Moreover, the addition of pumpkin leaf protein in infant weaning foods was found to have significant effects on iron status indices.
What more, when 30 anaemic pregnant women from rural communities were served with an oral mixture of pumpkin leaves extract, milk and raw egg three times a day for seven days, a significant rise in their mean packed cell volume (PCV) was observed. Similarly, when fluted pumpkin extract sweetened with milk was served to two severely anaemic children, there was a reported increase in their PCV.
In carrying out the study, leaves of pumpkin were homogenized in a blender with water and the homogenate was filtered through layers of muslin cloth to obtain an extract. Mice in groups of between four and eight were randomly allocated to the control group and two other experimental groups and administered the extract for 10 days. Mice were given fresh fluted pumpkin extract or FeSO4 solution daily and the record of daily consumption was taken.
After the experimental period, blood samples were collected and the mice were sacrificed in order to take samples of tissue from their liver and their blood for assessment. The researchers found that the haemoglobin levels in mice given pumpkin treatment were 23.0 per cent higher than the control group fed on iron-deficient diet. More so, after 10 days of administration, fluted pumpkin extract effected an iron bioavailability enhancement that was comparable to FeSO4 as judged by haemoglobin level.
In order to ascertain the use of fluted pumpkin extract in iron bioavailability studies, the effect of ascorbate (vitamin C), a potent enhancer of iron absorption, was studied. Interestingly, the scientists indicated that iron and ascorbate administered jointly to anaemic mice significantly enhanced haemoglobin regeneration after 10 days.
The scientists wrote,”administration of T. occidentalis leaves led to a modest increase in haemoglobin (Hb) levels in anaemic mice that were comparable to the Hb repletion in anaemic mice given FeSO4.”
Is pumpkin leaf extract more effective in tackling anaemia? Well, findings in the study indicate that pumpkin extract is a better option in building blood volume in comparison with its leaves which is usually incorporated into soups and stews. This is because processing techniques such as blanching and homogenisation have been shown to significantly reduce the iron content of vegetables. Also processing techniques that prevent loss of ascorbic acid in the vegetable makes boost iron’s absorption into the body from the vegetable.
No doubt, the use of iron salts as supplements and in food fortification is hindered by cost implications and sustainability in developing countries. Nonetheless, fluted pumpkin which is used in some traditional setting to treat anaemia can help in alleviating the problem of iron deficiency anaemia. Moreover, its use as dried leaves will ensure significantly high intake of iron in soups and other traditional meals.Share